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Stormy Weather: A Novel

Stormy Weather: A Novel

3.9 121
by Paulette Jiles

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From Paulette Jiles, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Enemy Women, comes a poignant and unforgettable story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength in a tragic time—and of a desperate dream born of an undying faith in the arrival of a better day

Oil is king of East Texas during the darkest years


From Paulette Jiles, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Enemy Women, comes a poignant and unforgettable story of hardship, sacrifice, and strength in a tragic time—and of a desperate dream born of an undying faith in the arrival of a better day

Oil is king of East Texas during the darkest years of the Great Depression. The Stoddard girls—responsible Mayme, whip-smart tomboy Jeanine, and bookish Bea—know no life but an itinerant one, trailing their father from town to town as he searches for work on the pipelines and derricks; that is, when he's not spending his meager earnings at gambling joints, race tracks, and dance halls. And in every small town in which the windblown family settles, mother Elizabeth does her level best to make each sparse, temporary house they inhabit a home.

But the fall of 1937 ushers in a year of devastating drought and dust storms, and the family's fortunes sink further than they ever anticipated when a questionable "accident" leaves Elizabeth and her girls alone to confront the cruelest hardships of these hardest of times. With no choice left to them, they return to the abandoned family farm.

It is Jeanine, proud and stubborn, who single-mindedly devotes herself to rebuilding the farm and their lives. But hard work and good intentions won't make ends meet or pay the back taxes they owe on their land. In desperation, the Stoddard women place their last hopes for salvation in a wildcat oil well that eats up what little they have left . . . and on the back of late patriarch Jack's one true legacy, a dangerous racehorse named Smoky Joe. And Jeanine, the fatherless "daddy's girl," must decide if she will gamble it all . . . on love.

Editorial Reviews

A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
"Those stories were hard bought," says Elizabeth Stoddard, the mother of the family whose heartbreaks and hopes are portrayed in this absorbing novel of life in Texas oil country in the depths of the Depression. "Those stories came at a high price."

The stories she is referring to belong to the years -- covered in the opening chapters of Stormy Weather -- of the 1920s and the early 1930s, when her rakish husband Jack led Elizabeth and their three daughters from one oil boom town to another, never settling anywhere for long. A drinker and a gambler in a time when both drinking and gambling were illegal, the feckless Jack dies in disgrace. As the despair and dust storms of the Great Depression fall over them, Elizabeth and her girls are left with nothing but an abandoned and decrepit family farm and a fleet, volatile racing stallion named Smoky Joe Hancock.

Of the four Stoddard women, it is Jeanine, the middle child, and her father's favorite -- and frequently his sidekick at the Texas brush tracks where Smoky Joe raced -- who pays the highest price for the stories Jack lived. And it is she who occupies the emotional center of Paulette Jiles's generous tale, learning to tame both the wild farm and her wild heart on her way into adulthood. Charting the women's progress through many storms and struggles, Jiles rivets our attention to the Stoddards' hardscrabble world of droughts, tractors, horses, oil fields, and small-town life, precisely rendering the details of labor and landscape, machinery and weather. Peopled with a vividly drawn cast of characters, from Jeanine's sisters Mayme and Bea to her suitors, the stuttering newspaperman Milton Brown and the handsome, reticent rancher Ross Everett, Stormy Weather tells a story that balances the bleakness of hard times with the humor and resilience of people who can -- through persistence, luck, and love -- outlast them. Fulfilling the promise of her first novel, the bestselling Enemy Women, and utilizing the gift for striking language that animates her award-winning poetry, Paulette Jiles has written a magnificent, magnanimous family drama.

About the Author
Stormy Weather is Paulette Jiles's second novel. Her first, Enemy Women, a Civil War story set in the author's native Missouri, was published in 2002 and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. A national bestseller, it was hailed as "a delight from start to finish" by Tracy Chevalier. The Washington Post wrote that "comparing Enemy Women to Cold Mountain doesn't quite do Jiles's novel justice."

Born and raised in the Ozarks, Jiles moved to Canada in 1969 after graduating from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The author of several books of stories, essays, and memoirs, she has also won the Governor General's Award, Canada's highest literary honor, for her poetry.

Stormy Weather was inspired in part by Jiles's conversations with people who lived in Texas during the 1930s. She says, "I was drawn by stories from older people about the Texas oil fields during the Depression. Most of those who lived through the Depression seemed to feel that everyone was in the same boat -- drifting and rudderless. For Jeanine, Elizabeth, Mayme, and Bea, returning to the farm means coming home to an old remembered place, and slowly becoming a part of it again."

A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Jiles lives on a ranch with her two horses, Dolly and Buck, and a donkey named Billie Bray, near San Antonio, Texas.

From Our Booksellers

History, horses, humor, and heart. Stormy Weather is a charming book filled with strong women, delightful characters, and is a worthy follow-up to Jiles's debut, Enemy Women. Rich and atmospheric, its rhythm is pure poetry, evoking…Steinbeck's '30s.
--Lynn Oris, St. Peters, MO

A beautifully written and richly detailed book. Although the landscape of Depression-era Texas is bleak, the story is uplifting in a way I haven't encountered since Angela's Ashes.
--Katie Ray, Phoenix, AZ

Jiles has a knack for placing the reader in the moment. You feel the grit of the dust between your teeth and the heavy damp in the air before a storm. Stormy Weather is set in the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, weaving together love, loss, and history, yet often sparking it with a unique sense of humor. I didn't want to close the cover on these remarkable characters!
--Karen Schafroth, Des Peres, MO

Like Little Women, Stormy Weather is a novel about a family of strong women trying to make their way in tough times.
--Patricia Sanders, Towson, MD

Jiles's beautiful prose renders an almost cinematic scope of the Texas Dust Bowl in the '30s. Some lines literally stopped me in my tracks. A joy to read.
--Amy Abts, Duluth, MN
Ron Charles
For more than 30 years, [Jiles has] been a successful poet, and her descriptions here of oil drilling, horse racing and terrifying dust storms crackle with excitement. She's also a master at creating the most charming romance -- a tender love affair between Jeanine and a young widower who must convince her that it's time to think about life outside her family.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Jiles's eloquent, engaging sophomore novel celebrates four strong women toughing out the Great Depression in the Texas dust bowl. As the book opens in 1927, Elizabeth Stoddard and husband Jack have three daughters: the pretty Mayme, the tomboyish Jeanine and the writerly Bea. Jeanine, resented for being daddy's favorite, soon becomes the novel's primary point of view. After the disgraced Jack dies in 1937, the four Stoddard women move back to the 150-acre homeplace on the Brazos River in Central Texas. Drought, hail and dust storms, land-tax debts and grinding poverty make life a struggle; radio shows, horse-racing, wildcat oil well speculation and stuttering news reporter friend Milton Brown provide diversions. Jeanine falls in love with local rancher Ross Everett; Mayme dates soldier Vernon. Visceral detail of the 1930s rancher life and the hardscrabble setting add authenticity, particularly in the characters' feel for horses. While forthright, some of the dialogue is less than believable (as when Ross compliments Jeanine on her "furious bloody purple" dress), but it serves the characters' greater-than-usual emotional bandwidth. Jiles winds this gritty saga up on the eve of WWII with a patchwork quilt's worth of hope. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Like the oil desperately needed during the Great Depression, Stormy Weatheris a slow gathering of hope underneath the surface. The Stoddard women's story coalesces after the death of the sole male in the family, who has left them little besides a wild racehorse named Smoky Joe, a tenuous belief in wildcat oil wells, and the ability to fend for themselves in the dustbowl of East Texas. Daughter Jeanine is the true heroine of the tale, but her mother and sisters provide a strong portrait of the diverse women of the era. Well read by Colleen Delany, the novel straddles romance and history and is recommended for audiences who prefer those genres.
—Joyce Kessel

Kirkus Reviews
Girl grows up in the Depression-era Texas dustbowl in an evocative but ultimately lackluster second novel from Jiles (Enemy Women, 2001). Jeanine is the middle daughter of Jack Stoddard, oil-field roustabout and dirt-track racehorse impresario. At age nine, she's gamely driving drunken, passed-out Dad home in his Tin Lizzie when 19-year-old Ross Everett intervenes, returning the two to Jeanine's mother Elizabeth and her sisters Mayme and Bea. Then comes the Crash, and the Stoddards move from town to town in search of oil jobs. Jack, his brain injured when he's exposed to "sour gas," descends into madness and dies in a jail cell. The women return to Elizabeth's dilapidated childhood farm. Elizabeth invests their dwindling funds in a wildcat oil well. Jeanine salvages the farm, doing all the housework and repairs, rescuing the peach orchard and clearing the land. As dust storms rage, the New Deal is born and war in Europe looms. Mayme meets a handsome soldier, and Bea scribbles pulpy stories in her journal. Jeanine finds two men mildly amusing: now-widowed rancher Ross, who buys her father's last stallion and gives her a stake in its winnings; and impish, stuttering newspaperman Milton, whose Runyonesque monologues consume way too much oxygen and page-space. Bea falls down a well, requiring expensive surgery that threatens to bankrupt the family again-unless that oil well isn't a dry hole after all. Period detail abounds, including authoritative arcana on every subject from oil and horses to windmills and roof patching. Jeanine's life, beset by one homely obstacle after another (nothing her capable hands can't handle of course), waxes anticlimactic as she approaches age 21 and resignsherself without much excitement to marriage. The characters other than Milton are utterly convincing in speech and manner, but they're adrift without a drama in which to act. If feisty Jeanine could find a vehicle with more horsepower, her return would be most welcome. Agent: Liz Darhansoff/Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents
“[A] stirring story . . . of self and home in language as spare and stark as the Texas landscape.”

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Stormy Weather LP

Chapter One

When her father was young, he was known to be a hand with horses. They said he could get any wage he asked for, that he could take on any job of freighting even in the fall when the rains were heavy and the oil field pipe had to be hauled over unpaved roads, when the mud was the color of solder and cased the wheel spokes. The reins were telegraph lines through which he spoke to his horses in a silent code, and it seemed to Jeanine that her father's battered hands held great powers in charge. He could drive through clouds or floods. During the early oil strikes in Central Texas he was once paid $1,250 to drive a sixteen-mule team hauling a massive oil field boiler from McAllister, Oklahoma, to Cisco, Texas. He got it across the Red River Bridge and through the bogged roads of North Texas without losing a mule or a spoke or a bolt.

Jeanine sat beside him on the wagon seat and watched the horses plunge along. They were buoyant, as if they were filled with helium. This particular morning his hands shook when he rolled a cigarette because the night before he had been drinking the brutal intoxicating mixtures that were sold because the Volstead Act was still in effect that year, 1924. After an hour they came to the oil field and her father told her to stay in the crisscross shadow of the derrick until he got his deal done because he and the foreman were probably going to sit around and talk and cuss for a while. You can't step past those shadows, there. Don't go playing around the horses' feet. Here, read this comic book. She sat and read from panel to panel as Texas Slim shot his way through the saloon doors on hishorse Loco. She couldn't keep her mind on it and so she walked the shadows of the derrick and pretended they were dark roads leading her away to distant countries like Mars and Boston and Oklahoma.

Her father talked with the driller about pipe to be hauled and how much a load and how many loads. The driller needed casing pipe, and casing pipe weighed more than drill stem so her father was trying to get paid by weight as well as by the load. After they had agreed and shook hands, he stood up carefully to balance his enormous beating head on his shoulders and called out, "Jeanine, come on, we've got to go."

Jeanine came to stand against her father's knees. All the machinery was still. The oil had been found and was being held below their feet, dark and explosive, until the crew would let it up through the casing pipe.

She said, "Let me drive the horses." Jeanine had a low voice and it made her sound like an immature blond dwarf.

Her father patted her heavily on top of her head. "You're too little to drive."

"But I want to play Ben-Hur."

He smiled. "You can't be Ben-Hur, honey, you're a girl."

The week before they had gone to see the movie star Raymond Navarro playing Ben-Hur in a toga, in screenland black and white, ripping around the arena at a suicidal speed, lashing a whip.

"Yeah, but he was wearing a dress, and I'm the one that's got the pants on."

Her father laughed and held his head. Jeanine was so relieved that her own laughter had a frantic sound and tears came to her eyes. The driller thought it was funny as well and he repeated it to the crew several times over and even after a week the driller could be heard to say Don't mess with me, boys, I'm the one that's got the pants on.

They started home. They lived in half of a rent house in Ranger, where they had moved as soon as there was word of an oil strike. Before that they seemed to have lived on the old Tolliver farm, but Jeanine was too young to remember it. Her father's strong hands were scarred, they had been knocked around by everything, by engine cranks and coffin hoists and the wagon jack. His cloth cap barely shaded his bloodshot eyes. All round them the horizon shifted from one red stone layer to another and down these slopes spilled live oak and Spanish oak and mesquite, wild grape and persimmon. Alongside the road were things people threw out of cars and wagons. A baby doll head lay under a dense blackbrush and seemed to watch as the hooves of the team went past. There were tin cans and mottled rags and lard pails and tiny squares of broken safety glass.

He reached under the seat and took out his bottle.

"If I have a drink now she'll never know by the time we get home." He took a quick drink and then handed the bottle to her. "Hide that for me."

Jeanine kneeled down and found the feed bags under the seat and stuffed the bottle in one of them and sat back on the seat again. She leaned against him. During the tormented shouting of the night before, Jeanine and her sister knew these were noises of pain. Their parents needed comfort.

"I love you," she said.

"You'll be mad at me too someday, Jenny," he said. "Before the world is done with me."

"But how come you threw the album out the front door?"

"Because the sewing machine was too heavy."

The photographs of herself and her sister Mayme tumbled down the steps like playing cards, like the doll head, discarded. Her mother and father's wedding portrait spun into the dirt. Jeanine and her sister Mayme picked them all up and carefully pasted them back into the album. Before long her mother and father would kiss each other. After that her father would be paid and they would buy a case of Lithiated Lemon soda and a radio and a race-horse.

Stormy Weather LP. Copyright © by Paulette Jiles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Brief Biography

Southwest Texas
Place of Birth:
Salem, Missouri
B.A. in Romance Languages, University of Missouri

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Stormy Weather 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 121 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of course harriet klausner has to come along with her cliff note book report and ruin this book. Another book sale lost bn. Please get rid of this poster, delete her plot spoilers and ban her from posting. She ruins every book she supposedly reviews!
DavidEdgewood More than 1 year ago
Truly a joy to read. Jiles writes about people you care about and stories about which you wish to know more. I learned so much about the time and the place through her fantastic descriptions and emotive writing. A real page-turner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw a lot of similarity between the characters--with enough differences to not be obvious, But Mayme--Amy? Jeanine--Jo? Bea--Beth. It was interesting reading but, like other reviews I read, it was easy to put down, and come back to later. Not bad, but not absorbing.
amwhidden More than 1 year ago
This book was quite the poetic read. The protagonist wasnt the typical strong female character but she had a lot of inner strength that helped keep her family going. She was very relatable and you cared about what happened to her, her mother, and her siblings. The author did a great job of showing how childhood scars can haunt you throughout life and that you must inevitabley learn to trust again in order to find happiness. Poetic language throughout book. The setting was really brought to life. Sometimes I wished there was more dialogue and less setting but in the end it really worked to make a poignant read. Recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I admint that I was worried, but this story and its characters are amazing. Interesting and real characters with real hardships and successes make this book a best choice for reading.
gipsy-pat More than 1 year ago
I found Stormy Weather to be an engrossing speculation of how life was lived by the families of those men who chased the emerging oil-fields across Texas during the time of the dust bowl. Not since Grapes of Wrath have I felt so caught up in the details of life during that period. I felt enlightened and entertained all in one, so much so that I promptly went out and read her previous book about the civil war.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. I cared about all the characters and wanted them to finally get a break. I am going to read Enemy Women now and will look forward to this author's next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stormy Weather Paulette Jiles Author Jiles has written about my days, the Thirties, and my part of Texas. As if looking over my shoulder, she has traced my paths of childhood, resurrecting little forgotten details once so familiar to me of that era. Her research is very thorough. But that is little compared to her astounding metaphors and similes. ¿. . . waistlines down around their hips, legs shining and pale in silk stockings, they moved forward into the 1920s that came like a light summer wind all over Texas, a decade that would have a hundred years in it and would never end.¿ Just one of many examples that pleases and delights the reader, illustrating Jiles natural flair for the poetic. Her characters are real, breathing people, determined to survive the now with hearts turned toward better days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Enjoying this book was like a time travel experience. I felt that I was in the 1930's dust bowl of Texas with our 4 brave, courageous, and resourceful women. I loved the clothes and furnishings being made from any cloth that was available anywhere. The working on the land and hot dusty days actually sent me into the refrigerator for a cold bottle of water as I read. The horse racing was something different than what most of us have heard about in the 'classic' race tracks of today. I really felt like I was part of this family, and enjoyed the personalities, talents for survival, industry, and pure fun with what was available for each woman's interests. The 'historical fiction' was at it's best done by Jiles. Throw in a great love story and this book is a wonderful read for book groups. One of the best books of this kind that I have read in a very long time!!!!
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She leaped onto a rock within the camp. "RainClan," she yowled. "Since I am Deputy, i will take temorary LeaderShip, she meowed before continuing, "Before EmberStar went missing," she meowed, her voice just mearly a whisper. "He was going to move camps. From now on camp is moved to: 'Rainy Days' result three. Everyone who needs a ceremony of any kind post what ceremony you need in result two," she yowled a bit louder. "Everyone move there now. Everyone MUST advertise EVERYDAY! We need to make this clan active and healthy as it once was! Everyone who has not yet posted a bio needs to do so at: 'Bios of Rain' result one. Results 2-3 are for updates," she meowed and leaped down, heading to the new camp. {Yeah, okay, AutumnShade. Honest, everyday I look at the 'Erin Hunter' books and there is NEVER a post for RainClan. Unless I post an ad for the clan, theres none there.}
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This was a great story that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. The characters are deep and fully realized and stick with you. Reminiscent of Little Women. An excellent book I would highly recommend.
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